Cheshire cheese used to be the bread and butter of the cheese making world. If cheese was Destiny's Child, Cheshire cheese was the Beyonce. But while Beyonce became a break out star in her own right, rising to prominence through the medium of soulful ballads and catchy pop tunes, Cheshire fell into near anonymity. There was a time when Cheshire cheese was stocked in every butcher shop across the country. One of the oldest cheese recipes in the world, dating back to Roman times, this cheese was ubiquitous. Before railways even existed in the UK, there was a boat that sailed from Liverpool to London filled with nothing but Cheshire cheese. When trains were invented, there was a Cheshire train that chugged it's cheesy cargo across the countryside.
But after the 2nd world war came the advent of industrialization. Cheddar, a much more dry, robust cheese that transported well became popular outside of the UK. Soon, it became cheaper to buy cheese in London that was made in Canada, than it was to buy anything made locally. This advent of mechanization was the death knell for cloth bound Cheshire.
Between the 19th and 20th centuries there were over two thousand farms making Cheshire cheese in Shropeshire alone. These days, there is only one. Appleby's cheese is currently the only producer making traditional Cheshire cheese, that means cloth bound and using raw milk. Enroot wanted to use some of their cheese as part of our dishes, so we paid Appleby's a visit
Appleby's farm is a 3rd generation dairy farm.There are over 400 dairy cows on site, and 30% of their milk production goes towards making Appleby's cheese. The rest is sold as raw milk to other cheesemakers, although at the moment the price of milk is so low they make absolutely no profit on milk sales. Appleby's makes a pint of milk for 23p a litre and sells it on for 23p.
Sarah Appleby, who currently runs the farm with her husband Paul, says the key to dairy farming in today's climate is to turn the milk into a value adding product such as cheese or yoghurt. If the Appleby's weren't making cheese, there would be no way they could compete with large scale farms selling milk to the big supermarkets at dirt cheap prices.
Jason Hind, a cheese buyer for Neal's Yard Dairy in London was at Appleby's sourcing for clients. He walked us through shelves and shelves of cloth bound cheeses, aging in rooms of varied temperatures and explained how traditional methods can produce a variety of flavours. We tried a few samples and sure enough; two samples of the same cheese, from different wheels, tasted distinctly different.
"Modern production encourages everything to taste the same," Jason says, "so we don't scare the consumer."
"But farm made cheese has a bandwith."
Jason will buy different batches of the same cheese, and each batch will have it's own profile- what flavours are present in the cheese. Is it dry? Acidic? Bright? He then matches each profile with his customers, who he knows well enough to understand their preferences. For example he has one customer who prefers a brighter gloucester, so he sources that for them.
"We want to celebrate the diversity that exists", says Jason, "rather than homogenizing things."